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Archives contain primary source documents that have accumulated over the course of an individual or organization's lifetime, and are kept to show the function of that person or organization. Professional archivists and historians generally understand archives to be records that have been naturally and necessarily generated as a product of regular legal, commercial, administrative, or social activities. They have been metaphorically defined as "the secretions of an organism",[3] and are distinguished from documents that have been consciously written or created to communicate a particular message to posterity.


In general, archives consist of records that have been selected for permanent or long-term preservation on grounds of their enduring cultural, historical, or evidentiary value. Archival records are normally unpublished and almost always unique, unlike books or magazines of which many identical copies may exist. This means that archives are quite distinct from libraries with regard to their functions and organization, although archival collections can often be found within library buildings.[4]

A person who works in archives is called an archivist. The study and practice of organizing, preserving, and providing access to information and materials in archives is called archival science. The physical place of storage can be referred to as an archive (more usual in the United Kingdom), an archives (more usual in the United States), or a repository.[5][6]

The word archive is first attested in English in the early 17th century, and the word archivist in the mid 18th century, although in these periods both terms are usually found used only in reference to foreign institutions and personnel. Not until the late 19th century did they begin to be used at all widely in domestic contexts.[6][11]

The practice of keeping official documents is very old. Archaeologists have discovered archives of hundreds (and sometime thousands) of clay tablets going back to the third and second millennia BC in sites like Ebla, Mari, Amarna, Hattusas, Ugarit, and Pylos. These discoveries have been fundamental to learning about ancient alphabets, languages, literature, and politics.

Archives were well developed by the ancient Chinese, the ancient Greeks, and ancient Romans (who called them Tabularia). However, those archives have been lost, since documents written on materials like papyrus and paper deteriorated relatively quickly, unlike their clay tablet counterparts. Archives of churches, kingdoms, and cities from the Middle Ages survive and have often kept their official status uninterruptedly to the present. They are the basic tool for historical research on this period.[12]

Modern archival thinking has some roots dating back to the French Revolution. The French National Archives, which possess perhaps the largest archival collection in the world (with records going as far back as 625 A.D.), were created in 1790 during the Revolution from various government, religious, and private archives seized by the revolutionaries.[17]

In 1883 French archivist Gabriel Richou published the first Western text on archival theory, entitled Traité théorique et pratique des archives publiques (Treaty of Theory and Practice of the Public Archives), in which he systematized the archival theory of the respect des fonds, first published by Natalis de Wailly in 1841.[18]

Historians, genealogists, lawyers, demographers, filmmakers, and others conduct research at archives.[19] The research process at each archive is unique, and depends upon the institution that houses the archive. While there are many kinds of archives, the most recent census of archivists in the United States identifies five major types: academic, business (for profit), government, non-profit, and other.[20] There are also four main areas of inquiry involved with archives: material technologies, organizing principles, geographic locations, and tangled embodiments of humans and non-humans. These areas help to further categorize what kind of archive is being created.

Archives in colleges, universities, and other educational facilities are typically housed within a library, and duties may be carried out by an archivist.[21][page needed] Academic archives exist to preserve institutional history and serve the academic community.[22] An academic archive may contain materials such as the institution's administrative records, personal and professional papers of former professors and presidents, memorabilia related to school organizations and activities, and items the academic library wishes to remain in a closed-stack setting, such as rare books or thesis copies. Access to the collections in these archives is usually by prior appointment only; some have posted hours for making inquiries. Users of academic archives can be undergraduates, graduate students, faculty and staff, scholarly researchers, and the general public. Many academic archives work closely with alumni relations departments or other campus institutions to help raise funds for their library or school.[23] Qualifications for employment may vary. Entry-level positions usually require an undergraduate diploma, but typically archivists hold graduate degrees in history or library science (preferably certified by a body such as the American Library Association).[24] Subject-area specialization becomes more common in higher ranking positions.[25]

Archives located in for-profit institutions are usually those owned by a private business. Examples of prominent business archives in the United States include Coca-Cola (which also owns the separate museum World of Coca-Cola), Procter and Gamble, Motorola Heritage Services and Archives, and Levi Strauss & Co. These corporate archives maintain historic documents and items related to the history and administration of their companies.[26] Business archives serve the purpose of helping their corporations maintain control over their brand by retaining memories of the company's past. Especially in business archives, records management is separate from the historic aspect of archives. Workers in these types of archives may have any combination of training and degrees, from either a history or library background. These archives are typically not open to the public and only used by workers of the owner company, though some allow approved visitors by appointment.[27] Business archives are concerned with maintaining the integrity of their company, and are therefore selective of how their materials may be used.[28]

Government archives include those maintained by local and state government as well as those maintained by the national (or federal) government. Anyone may use a government archive, and frequent users include reporters, genealogists, writers, historians, students, and people seeking information on the history of their home or region. Many government archives are open to the public and no appointment is required to visit.[29]

In the UK, the National Archives (formerly known as the Public Record Office) is the government archive for England and Wales. The physical records stored by the National Archives amount to 185 km (115 miles) of shelving, a number that increases every year.[35] The English Heritage Archive is the public archive of English Heritage. The National Records of Scotland, located in Edinburgh, serve that country;[36] while the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland in Belfast is the government archive for Northern Ireland.[37]

A network of county record offices and other local authority-run archives exists throughout England, Wales, and Scotland and holds many important collections, including local government, landed estates, church, and business records. Many archives have contributed catalogues to the national "Access to Archives" programme and online searching across collections is possible.

In France, the French Archives Administration (Service interministériel des Archives de France) in the Ministry of Culture supervises the National Archives (Archives nationales), which possess 373 km (232 miles) of physical records as of 2020[update] (the total length of occupied shelves put next to each other), with original records going as far back as A.D. 625, and 74.75 terabytes (74,750 GB) of electronic archives, as well as the National Overseas Archives (ANOM, 36.5 kilometres (22.7 mi) of physical records), the National Archives of the World of Labour [fr] (ANMT, 49.8 kilometres (30.9 mi) of physical records), and all local public archives (departmental archives, or archives départementales, located in the préfectures of each of the 100 départements of France plus the City of Paris, more than 400 municipal archives in the larger towns and cities of France, and 12 newer regional archives) which possess 3,591 km (2,231 miles) of physical records and 225.25 terabytes of electronic archives (as of 2020[update]).[38][39] Put together, the total volume of archives under the supervision of the French Archives Administration is the largest in the world.

The archives of the French Ministry of Armed Forces (Defence Historical Service, ca. 450 kilometres (280 mi) of physical records) and the archives of the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs (Diplomatic Archives [fr], ca. 120 kilometres (75 mi) of physical records) are managed separately by their respective ministries and do not fall under the jurisdiction of the Archives of France Administration.[40]

Most intergovernmental organisations keep their own historical archives. However, a number of European organisations, including the European Commission, choose to deposit their archives with the European University Institute in Florence.[42]

A prominent church archive is the Vatican Apostolic Archive.[43]Archdioceses, dioceses, and parishes also have archives in the Roman Catholic and Anglican Churches. Very important are monastery archives, because of their antiquity, like the ones of Monte Cassino, Saint Gall, and Fulda. The records in these archives include manuscripts, papal records, local church records, photographs, oral histories, audiovisual materials, and architectural drawings. 041b061a72


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